Cristian Pache’s first year in Philadelphia was one of tantalizing potential and unfortunate timing. He was acquired on the eve of the season in a trade with the Oakland Athletics in a low risk, high reward move by Dave Dombrowski. Pache’s exceptional defense was well known, but he never had hit remotely close to enough to stay in the Majors consistently. Acquiring Pache was, in essence, a vote of confidence in hitting coach Kevin Long’s ability to turn Pache into something closer to a league average hitter.
2023 regular season stats: 48 G, 95 PA, .238/.319/.417, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 2 SB, 5 DRS, 3 OAA
2023 Postseason stats: 4 G, 10 PA, 1-7 (.143 AVG), 3 BB, 3 K, 1 SB
It didn’t start off too well for Pache, as it seemed like he was constantly up in a big spot in the game with runners on and routinely made an out. He started the season 0-6 at the plate with 2 strikeouts. It looked as though he was still the player everyone thought he was.
But, despite limited playing time, Pache then seemed to be on the verge of a potential breakout. With a revamped stance and swing, Pache began driving the ball at a better rate than he ever had up to that point. He racked up 9 extra base hits in just 37 plate appearances prior to the All-Star break after having just 10 XBH in 260 PA in 2022. The highlight of his season came on July 7th, when he blasted a two-run, pinch hit home run with two outs in the ninth inning in Miami to put the Phillies ahead 4-3 and ultimately extended their then road winning streak to 13 games.
That home run is also the one that gifted us with one of the best celebrations of 2023:
Phillies have won 13 straight road games. pic.twitter.com/VemJCeCTgs— Matt Gelb (@MattGelb) July 8, 2023
Unfortunately for Pache, part of the reason his playing time was so limited was because of injury. He went on the IL on April 29th after tearing the meniscus in his right knee. Pache was reactivated on June 16th after a short rehab assignment, but once again landed on the IL on July 14th with right elbow irritation that stemmed from a loose screw in his elbow from an earlier procedure. He wouldn’t return to the roster until September 1st, and by then Johan Rojas had staked a claim to much of the playing time that was going to Pache.
Prior to his injury, he was slashing .327/.365/.592 and was on pace to post career highs in hits, extra base hits, and home runs. After returning, Pache slashed .114/.262/.171 across 42 PA. He started three of the Phillies first four postseason games against left-handed starting pitchers but didn’t have much impact before being pinch hit for with Brandon Marsh coming in whenever the starter exited.
Pache showed enough in his limited playing time to warrant a spot on the bench next season, at least for now. Ideally, the Phillies would want to have better offensive options off the bench in a pinch-hit situation, a spot that became exposed in the postseason. But Pache will be 25 next season and will be entering his final year of pre-arbitration. There’s no reason not to keep him around and see if he can recapture the momentum he had before his injury. After all, he posted by far the best batting line of his career even if it was abbreviated.
However, Pache will likely be competing with Johan Rojas for a roster spot and/or playing time. Both are similar players with similar skillsets as well as similar faults. It's not farfetched to think that Pache starts the season on the MLB roster while Rojas starts in Triple A, a level the latter skipped on his way to the Majors last season. This could buy the Phillies time as Pache is out of minor league options, meaning he would have to pass through waivers to be sent down. Rojas could afford the time to work on his bat at Lehigh Valley, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise if indeed this is the route the Phillies take. But, Pache will need to hold off Rojas if he intends to keep his playing time, as the organization is clearly very high on Rojas or they wouldn’t have jumped him from Double-A to the Majors . Pache will need to prove that he can replicate his small sample success over a larger period of time.